Unlike your typical strength training exercises that use long slow movements, plyometrics are a type of exercise in which your muscles use maximum force in a very short duration. The purpose of these exercises is to improve overall speed and power. This type of training teaches you how to make your muscles move from extension to contraction (also known as the stretch shortening cycle or SCC) in a quick and explosive way. The extension phase is when the muscle lengthens in a rapid manor and the concentric phase is when the muscle engages in an explosive shortening movement.
Plyometric exercises were invented by Soviet scientists during the Cold War. The first system that was developed where these exercises were used was called “jump Training”, and it consisted of repetitive jumping. This system was used by Russian track and field athletes in order to increase their speed and explosiveness. When the Soviets dominated the Olympics in the 1960’s and 70’s, people began to look in to what their training habits were. Fred Wilt, the American track and field coach, studied the Soviet athletes and brought back his findings to American soil. Here he renamed this system of exercises ‘Plyometrics” and began to implement them into his own athletes programs. Though these movements were designed for track athletes, they are now used in multiple different athletic arenas, and by various different sports teams in hopes to improve their athletes performance.
Where Plyometrics are beneficial:
At the muscular level
When you perform a plyometric exercise your muscles go through what is called the stretch-shortening cycle. Think of your muscles as being an elastic band. When you perform plyometric exercises, such as jumping on a box, you will bend your joints in a rapid movement that is called triple flexion (flexion of the hip, knee and ankle), this is comparable to the stretching of the elastic band. When you push off, you will go through triple extension (extension of the hip, knee and ankle), which is comparable to letting the elastic band go. The faster you let that band go, the more power you will have. The muscle fibers that are responsible for providing this power are called fast twitch fibers, and plyometric exercises strengthen these fibers. The stronger the fibers, the faster the contraction which in turn means more power.
Your tendons support your muscles, so it only makes sense that you need to have strong tendons. Doing plyometric exercises strengthen your tendons and give them more elasticity all within a controlled setting. This means that you will have fewer injuries, and more stability. Fixing a torn tendon can often mean surgery, so doing anything to prevent this is a no brainer.
More efficient nervous system
When your muscles contract, your brain sends a signal to your muscles through your neuromuscular system. The quicker your neuromuscular system can transmit these signals, the faster you can contract and extend your muscles, which increases your power and speed. Plyometric exercises increase this efficiency.
What are some Plyometric exercises?
There are many different types of Plyos, so find the ones that will benefit you the most. If you are a beginner, you need to take precautionary measures, as in any new exercise regimen. These exercises put a lot of stress on your tendons and joints, so having a professional help you in the beginning will be your best bet. You always want to put safety first. Below is a list of 5 different plyometric exercises that you can add to your workout, weather you are a beginner or a veteran.
Stand in front of a plyobox (to start use something that is about 18” high) with your feet directly under your hips and put your hands to your side. Lower yourself into jumping positions by bending your knees and hips, keeping your head up and back straight. Jump up onto the box with both feet in one explosive movement while swinging your arms backward. Land in the center of the box while absorbing the impact with your legs. Bring your body to an upright and standing position, then return to your initial state by either stepping off one foot at a time, or jumping down backwards.
Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Lower yourself into squatting position, keeping your knees behind your toes and your back straight. Immediately jump upwards, reaching as high as you can with your hands when your feet leave the floor. Land in the same position you started in and swing your arms backwards, then repeat the second step immediately.
Think back to your childhood when you used to skip around the playground. You are basically going to do the same thing, but with a little more power and precision. Propel yourself upwards with each skip, by bringing your knee up as high as you can. As you bring each knee up, swing your opposite hand upwards to get as much vertical height as possible.
Get out a cone or another object that you can jump over. Stand next to the object with your legs and feet together, arms at your sides. Bend your knees and lower yourself to squatting position, keeping your back straight. Pause briefly at the bottom of the squat and bring your weight forward. Jump upwards and to the left or right, whichever side your object is placed. Bend your knees as you land to protect your joints and land on the balls of your feet then allow your heels to hit the floor.
Alternate Leg Bounding
This is kind of like running, but your steps will be longer and your body will come up higher. Push off of your right foot while bringing your left knee up, trying to have as much hang time as possible. Land on your left foot and repeat the same motions with your right foot.
Plyometrics can be a great addition to any routine, especially if you want to increase your speed and agility. Just make sure to stretch beforehand and learn how to do the exercises properly.